It has been twelve days since Malaysian Flight MH370 disappeared along with 239 souls on board. Like everyone else I am wondering what happened. As a pilot, I am curious as to what led to the aircraft’s demise. Unfortunately, without finding the aircraft it is very difficult to ascertain what led to its disappearance. The incredulity by many that an aircraft of that size could seemingly disappear into thin air is fed by the notion that Edward Snowden has created of the omnipotent power of the NSA to eavesdrop on all of our electronics. The loss of MH370 demonstrates that as advanced as we are, we are very far from conquering the awesomeness of Mother Nature. The fact is that the Earth is a very big place.
The intrigue surrounding the disappearance of the aircraft and all of the people on board also demonstrates that although technology surrounds us it is far from being the solution to everything. The blogosphere is full of commentary about the aircraft’s transponder with many individuals opining why is it possible that it can be turned off.
I learned to fly in what pilots refer to as analog cockpits. The Boeing Triple-7 is a very modern aircraft that sports what is now referred to as a glass-cockpit. Although my experiences, as a pilot, do not include glass-cockpits, the fundamentals are still the same even though a computer and fancy displays may make the experience more pleasant. It comes down to the basics of altitude, speed and aircraft attitude. All of these are handled by the three basic instruments all aircraft have. Of course, navigation is important but the fact is that flying is accomplished by the three basic instruments and the navigation is what gets you from point A to point B.
One of the first things I learned is that the transponder is not to be turned on until you are ready for takeoff. The transponder is what gives the radar operator the specifics of your aircraft. I understand that nowadays transponders are more sophisticated then when I was learning to fly but the reason we did not turn them on until we were ready to take off was to avoid cluttering up the radarscopes of the air traffic controllers. That is the reason transponders can be turned off and on from the cockpit. Besides, all pilots like to have as much control of their aircraft as possible.
Although we do not know the circumstances of why the transponder was turned off and by who it is disturbing to pilots that it was turned off when it was. As everyone else, we can speculate as to why but the fact remains that we do not know why it was turned off.
As for the other theories floating about as to where the aircraft may be, they must be tempered with the fact that we do not have many facts to go on. We do know that the aircraft’s transponder was turned off after their final radio check with Malaysian Air Traffic Control but before the crew made contact with Vietnam ATC.
The handoff period of time between the two controllers is the basis of many of the conspiracy theories. That the aircraft never completed their handoff to Vietnam controllers and that their transponder ceased broadcasting during this period of time is curios indeed and this would support the hostile takeover of the aircraft theory. Adding to that the lack of signs of aircraft debris in the likely area of a crash further supports this hypothesis.
However, the fact remains that other than knowing the aircraft is unaccounted for we do not have many facts from where to postulate an intelligent theory as to what may have happened. There are just too many variables and as has already been shown the world is just too large to easily find one aircraft.
As humans we will continue to theorize until the facts present themselves. However, as humans we should not forget the human cost of this tragedy. Everyone seems to be spending time theorizing what may have happened to the aircraft but I believe it is important to pause for a moment and consider the human cost of the lost MH370 flight.